Justice League of America 6

JLA 6 trinity

Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Justice League of America 6 originally released July 17th, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.

trinity war divPatrick: Did any of you guys ever play Warhammer? If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a table top war game where you assemble an army from your race of choice and battle against your friends’ armies. It’s the least pick-up-and-play game you could ever imagine – understanding the basic rules means reading a 100+ page manual, and keeping a cheat sheet with charts and tables with you at all times. And then there’s understanding your own army, for which you need yet other book completely dedicated to that race. Then you need the little metal figures to represent the members of your army (sold separately), and if you’re really hardcore you can paint them. Then you need a surface large enough to play on – one time my friends and I took a door off its hinges and used that when we were denied the dining room table. Ideally, this surface will be populated with trees and terrain and stuff like that. Setting up the Trinity War has felt an awful lot like setting up a Warhammer game. Everyone’s been reading extra books they don’t really want to read just so they can play in the big game. Now the event is actually here and I can’t believe I’m surprised that all the characters feel like pieces in a game.

In the aftermath of Superman murdering Dr. Light, the two Leagues start duking it out – pretty much pairing off the way Waller outlined in her chart back in issue 1. Supes — still freaking out a little — turns himself over to the authorities, and everyone goes back to A.R.G.U.S. headquarters for medical attention. The Leagues that fight together, heal together, I guess. While Batman sticks around to talk Superman through a tough time, Wonder Woman goes out in search of answers, presuming that Pandora’s shitty little box is somehow behind all of this. She’s stops by Hephaestus’ armory to ask him about the box, but Hephy claims that even the gods don’t understand that thing. So Diana turns to the Justice League Dark, who appear to be digging Xanadu out of the rubble of some building. Back A.R.G.U.S., The Question — disguised as Steve Trevor — infiltrates Superman’s cell to have a little chat about “who really killed Dr. Light.”

By my count there are 23 superheroes, one god, an implied Xanadu, plus Waller and Trevor and The Question all figuring into this issue. That’s a whole lotta heroes – more than one per page. Johns and Lemire somehow manage a moment or a line with every single one of them. Which is basically insane. Like all the best Johns events, this is not an issue for the uninitiated. You’ve got to hand it to this team: it does deliver on a League vs. League battle royale. Mind you, it’s motivated by the death of a character we barely know, and put to a stop when Superman starts crying, but damn it, we got the battle. True to form, this is where Doug Mahnke shines. Bitch as I might about the shallow thrills that this kinda of Hero War bandies about, the meta-human brawl is kind of an awesome spectacle.

The Justice League fights the Justice League of America

That many iconic character characters in one place doesn’t come cheap – the cost of admittance has been preposterously high. Readers have spent so much time, money and attention getting ready for this moment, and even though the battle is shortlived, there’s the implied promise that, next time, Frankenstein will be in the brawl too. Yes please.

As it plays to such base, giddy thrills, there’s not all that much literary bullshit for us to discuss. Treating a comic book review like an English paper may be Retcon Punch’s MO, but that’s simply not purpose or spirit of this issue. So let’s engage with the issue in the manner which it demands: speculation and observation.

This issue starts playing that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON game from the first panel, as the leader of the Secret Society rolls a coin around in his hand that bears the face of Pandora’s box.

Secret Society of Villains totes love Pandora's box

In that carving, the three-eyed skull looks remarkably Martian – and that’s a connection we’ve been making in the comments for a while. But I’m more inclined to suspect some interdimensional foul-play at work here. When Vibe successfully severs Flash’s tie to the Speed Force, Vibe senses… something else happening. Vibe’s too much of a wuss to bring it up again later, but he could perceive another force at work here. I suppose it’s possible that there are both alien and interdimensional forces supporting the bad guys, but the more satisfying answer is that they’re connected… somehow.

And there’s the outstanding question of “What’s happening to Superman?” J’onn does a little Martian Mindmeld with Clark during his freakout and gets this tantalizing snippet of information.

Superman trophy

What in the hell is that? More importantly, who is collecting superheroes as trophies? Some sort of shapeshifter? Maybe that force we saw possessing Catwoman in Batman / Superman 1? Or maybe the collection refers to The Question’s incredibly ill-defined mission.

Oh – THE QUESTION. Spencer, I’ll leave the discussion of that dude to you. It looks like Johns and Lemire are hanging on to at least some of his Rorschach-like qualities (his voice over looks to be typed on scraps of paper), while folding in this Trinity of Sin stuff. What do you think he’s up to and how long do you think he’s been pretending to be Trevor?

trinity war div

Spencer: Well, I’m assuming the Question only masqueraded as Trevor to sneak in and see Superman, but I could be wrong. Regardless, I was genuinely pleased with Q’s treatment in this issue. I haven’t had the chance to read many of his comic stories outside of 52, but thanks to his appearances in Justice League Unlimited I’m still a pretty big fan of the character, meaning I was definitely worried by his inclusion in the Trinity of Sin at first.

Fortunately, Johns and Lemire have kept much of the core of the character intact. Sure, he’s no longer “Vic Sage, crusading journalist”, but he’s still a faceless, powerless conspiracy theorist and detective who might be slightly unhinged, but in a brilliant way. I was worried that lumping him into the Trinity of Sin would change him into a supernatural character at his core (leaving him unrecognizable), but fortunately, that’s not the case at all.

What do I think he’s up to? I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. The Question is out to discover who manipulated Superman into killing Doctor Light, cause that’s what he does—that’s what he has to do: answer questions. I don’t think he has any hidden agendas, but I could be wrong; there has to be some reason he’s included in the Trinity of Sin, after all.

Anyway Patrick, I want to discuss that Superman trophy you posted a picture of for a second. It’s actually a chess piece, and the “collection” is the League’s Trophy Room; The Atom found the rest of the set in the wreckage of the Watchtower back in Justice League 22, and even pointed out that the Superman piece was conspicuously absent. I have no idea what’s going on with it, but it does remind me of this:

It was a different time

Way back in the very first issue of Justice League of America, Despero challenged the League to a game of chess with pieces modeled after—and I believe bonded to—the members of the Justice League. The set chess is no doubt a homage to this story, but interestingly enough, Despero himself put in an appearance back in Justice League 20 (yes, that’s the same guy; he looked a lot dumber in the 60s), and while I don’t know how he’s connected to the Trinity War just yet, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Despero’s old chess set has become prominent right around the same time he returned to destroy the Watchtower.

All this talk of chess and Warhammer and game pieces is intriguing, because I think that the Trinity War all boils down to characters being played like a game. And I don’t just mean Johns and Lemire setting up characters for their massive, massive story (although that’s certainly true), I mean that the League themselves are being played, likely by the leader of the Secret Society.

In fact, there’s been a lot of imagery comparing the Leagues to game pieces in this storyline; it’s not just the chessboard, there’s also Xanadu’s cards from Part 1. It all implies that the Leagues aren’t in control of this story at all, that they’re being pulled along and deceived by forces unknown, and perhaps even fate itself, and that’s a scary concept when it involves nearly two dozen of the most powerful beings on Earth.

Still, Johns and Lemire find time to give their characters agency and dig into their reactions some. Superman has been a character whose characterization has been questionable since the reboot, especially early in Justice League’s run, but at least in this issue he seems to be the same old Superman, a man who will forever be haunted by Light’s death, even when he (probably) bears no real blame for the event.

I was also impressed by Wonder Woman. Just last week we were decrying Johns’ interpretation of Diana, and while it’s still not perfect, her showing this week is much, much stronger. I loved seeing her mission to find answers, but I think I was most impressed by the following scene:

Not friendly Steve, not friendly

We’ve called Waller, Trevor, and the JLA on their reckless, questionable tactics before, but it’s nice to see somebody in the book proper acknowledge it. More importantly, it’s nice to see Diana arguing for communication and negotiation before violence. Oftentimes Diana is portrayed as hyperviolent, but a lot of people forget that she’s an ambassador, someone who extends a hand in friendship before she makes a fist, and it really is refreshing to see that side of her again, especially from Johns.

Even Amanda Waller comes across a little better this issue. Sure, she’s pretty callous about the death of one of her best agents and sure, she’s tossing passive aggressive threats at the Atom like it ain’t no thing, but she also feels like a real, vulnerable, flesh and blood human being for maybe the first time ever.

I guess this is about as human as Waller gets

The Justice League of America was supposed to exist as a safeguard against the League in case they ever went rogue. That’s understandable, but until now Waller has come across as a warmonger, just looking for opportunities to call out the League, and that’s undermined the JLA’s whole purpose. But now we finally get to see a Waller who, at least at some level, has faith in Superman’s inherent goodness, and also a Waller who is genuinely afraid of what the League can do, and that goes a long way towards justifying the JLA’s existence and making Waller more tolerable.

Still, does Waller have anything to do with these nefarious plans? I wouldn’t put it past her, newfound humanity or not.

I dunno guys, I know some of you are feeling a little fatigued by crossovers, but I’m having a lot of fun with this story so far. When crossovers work they can be some of the most fun to be had in all of comics, and so far, this crossover is definitely working for me.

trinity war div

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

14 comments on “Justice League of America 6

  1. Spencer, I think the key to enjoying this crossover is going to be that game-mentality that we both identified. Great grab on the chess pieces and the connection to Despero – the fact that Johns and Lemire are making these game allusions so explicit sorta frees us up to enjoy that aspect of this story. That’s the sort of thing that’s only possible because of the absurd investment we’ve made in these characters and this world already. It might not strike any new thematic ground, but it is interesting to consider the plot mechanics at work here.

  2. The one piece of Diana characterization that bothered me was the way she dealt with Hephaestus. He’s not wrong: they were totally buddies last time they met, she doesn’t need to go in there and start fucking strangling him to get information. Like a straight up question would have been fine – especially considering he doesn’t have any answers about the Box.

    • This REALLY bugged me as well. I actually stopped reading for a while at that point because it so pulled me out of the story. I mean, Wonder Woman lashing out with her lasso, at a friend, without provocation, in a sneak attack from behind goes against her character in so many ways. Given their recent history I would think Wonder Woman would expect Hephaestus to be straight with her if she came to him directly and inquired about the box–I can’t imagine that she would resort to violence or force answers from him as a first course of action.

      Other than that I enjoyed the story, but that scene with Hephaestus was close to enough to ruin it for me.

      • The only way to excuse that scene (and this is me meeting them more than halfway, for sure) is to apply the general “everyone fights first and asks questions later” – which sort of seems to be the rule in Heroes vs. Heroes stories. Like, f’real – Superman instantly vaporizes a guy, accidentally, and then the two leagues just start fighting? No, guys – he just fucking effortlessly atomized that guy with his eyes, fighting is THE LAST THING you want to do.

  3. My favorite piece of this write-up is that Patrick seems to have completely forgotten that Xanadu’s fortune-teller’s parlor blew up at the end (which explains why the JLD is “digging Xanadu out of the rubble of some building”). This illustrates just how forgettable that was as a cliffhanger — even if it just came out LAST WEEK — and how poorly this issue handled connecting those dots (it doesn’t help that we get ZERO resolution on that cliffhanger).

    • I mean, I remembered well enough that I made the assumption that they’re there looking for Xanadu. I guess I just didn’t reach the phrase “fortune-teller’s parlor” before my mind was just like “some building, whatever.” I’m sure she’s fine – is my point.

  4. So hey, I haven’t had the chance to read Justice League Dark yet, so maybe you guys can help me out. I’m familiar with most of the team, but who exactly is Black Orchid? I mean, I’m assuming she’s the girl in purple in this issue, but she sure didn’t do anything to distinguish herself, and she isn’t even on the giant League vs. League vs. League covers. I know nothing about her, can you guys give me the Cliff’s Notes?

    Likewise, why can the team see Deadman? In all my prior experience with the character, he was invisible and could only be seen and interacted with when possessing someone’s body.

    • Black Orchid is sort of a shapeshifter, but she doesn’t really do it that much. Her powers are somehow derived from both the Green (Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy) and the Red (Animal Man, Beast Boy). So it’s like she taps into the powers of plants and animals – sometimes that means taking on their forms. But her power-limits have been weirdly ill-defined so far. She’s not NEW to this series, but she’s being slowly-slowly-slowly developed. (Though, I wouldn’t expect that we explore her very much in this event).

      And people can just see Deadman. That’s just a thing now. I laughed out loud when Diana says “I don’t know any of you, Deadman.” ‘Cuz, like, she clearly knows his name.

  5. Going to have to disagree on the Wonder Woman front. The scene with Hephaestus shows that Johns is still writing her as irrational and violent. It was completely out of character for her to attack Hephaestus like that.

    And the scene with Steve just tells me that she’s an idiot. Of course he didn’t tell her the confidential government information that she’s not privy to. That would be a breach of national security.

    The rest of the crossover though is shaping up quit well, and I suppose one badly written character is a minor price to pay for that.

      • Johns track record with Diana was the reason I gave him a little credit for the scene with Steve, actually. I like to point out when I think a writer/artist has improved, especially if it’s something I’ve/we’ve criticized them for in the past, and while that scene with Hephaestus was really off, I liked that scene with Steve Trevor that I posted enough that I felt like I should give him a little praise.

        As for that scene itself, of course Steve couldn’t divulge secret information to her (which, yeah, Diana didn’t seem to realize, or just didn’t care), but I kind of took it as a larger criticism, as Diana being upset that the JLA came at her League ready to fight/arrest them without even TRYING to talk to the people who have not only saved the world dozens of times, but who also consider Trevor a friend.

        And she’s not wrong.

        • Diana’s still wrong. The JLA didn’t turn up to arrest them but to tell them to clear out of Kahndaq. Wonder Woman and Superman have already broken Kahndaq’s laws by invading once before. The JL have caused an international incident and the JLA were sent in, wrongly I admit, to try an contain that. Given that Wonder Woman’s the one who caused the first incident in Kahndaq, and she’s the one that caused then and brawl in the middle of a populated area with Green Lantern and Superman back in the Graves arc, she’s doing a remarkable job of proving Amanda Waller and the governments fears regarding the League right.

          And trying to use the “friend” card is just cheap. She dumped Steve, didn’t speak to him for a year, and then had him fired. In what sense of the word is she his friend?

  6. Good review. I like the stuff with the Question and how the plot didn’t turn out to be one big fight scene the whole six issues. That they actually threw a curveball in was a nice touch. I liked the mentioning of the callback to the silver age justice league with the chess pieces.

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